amelia · gus · just write life · motherhood · writing

When Determination Comes at the Pace of a Bear Crawl

IMG_0368They tell me bears are fast. If we see one when we’re hiking, the worst thing we can do is run because they will chase us down and eat us.

Okay, not really, but mauling for sure. Maybe.

My kids participated in a bear crawl this morning because the bear is their school mascot (of course because we live in the mountains) and this fun run raised lots of money for their school. Specifically the teacher’s classroom libraries, which I think should be stocked with Cynthia Rylant and plenty of gorgeous picture books.

(I told this to my youngest’s kindergarten teacher from last  year. I don’t know his first grade teacher well enough yet to go all book bossy on her.)

Thirty-five laps around a “track” made of tiny cones and discarded water cups. I have no idea who long the actual footage was, but I know it took most kids about thirty minutes to complete. I expected my turbo charged little boy to run his heart flat out.

He did. He also made his hair look like this which is why I cannot bring myself to cut it.

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But my third, my youngest daughter, who has given us a history that involves words like atrophy and MRI and oligloconal banding, the girl who wears a brace to walk so she doesn’t get too tired, the child who had a complete meltdown at my kitchen table Monday afternoon BECAUSE THIRD GRADE IS SO HARD, I didn’t have any expectations. I just hoped she wouldn’t get run over.

Y’all.

She ran and ran and grinned and ran and cheered and laughed. She beat her friends. She never stopped, never gave up, never worried that she couldn’t do it. Watching her reminded me she’s stronger everyday. She’s better every scan. She’s living with a new normal that’s been her normal for over half her life now.

This is her life.

And she’s determined to live it at high speed–not crawl through it cowered down by the what-ifs.

I think it’s time I took a cue from my baby girl and found my own endurance.

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I adore this book. It is wonderfully written and tells the story beautifully.-2

school · writing

How to really appreciate your kids’ teachers this week (and all year long).

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Y’all. It’s May-hem. May-member. May-day. May the force of common sense be with you.

And Pinterest crafting isn’t in my wheelhouse this month. (Or ever, honestly. So if you love some sanding and painting and cutesy font notecards this post is not for you, and please, sell me your services next year because I have the black thumb equivalent of gift giving.)

I love my kids’ teachers. LOVE them. One math teacher gave us her cell so we could text if my middle schooler is on the verge of fraction-induced tears. My son’s kindergarten teacher has a son with the same name as mine AND THE SAME BIRTHDAY 10 YEARS REMOVED so she basically treats him like he’s hers. These are good, good people teaching my kids how to navigate Google and divide negative numbers.

However.

I can’t be all thanks a latte because you helped me grow into one smart cookie since you’re such a sharp teacher.

(For the record, I do appreciate the puns.)

Between my four kids we have TWENTY TEACHERS.

We’re all barely surviving May as it is. Teacher Appreciation week should be moved to September because HALLELUJAH! SCHOOL IS BACK IN SESSION AND WE REALLY APPRECIATE IT.

Also, teachers really need supplies. And support. And extra snacks because some of us (hangs head in shame) can’t be trusted to read the snack schedule.

So if you want to appreciate your kids’ teacher without feeling like a crap mom when everyone else (i.e. half my Insta feed) is cranking out adorable-ness on their Cricket, the best things to do are simply done all year long.

I taught school for years. Middle school mind you.

And this is what I appreciated:

  • Boxes of expo markers
  • Extra supplies for a kid in need
  • Cases of Lysol wipes
  • New books for my classroom
  • Kids who came to school on time
  • Kids who were picked up from extracurricular activities on time
  • Kids who said “Yes, ma’am” and “No, ma’am” and “please” and “thank you”
  • Ink cartridges
  • Tissues
  • Agenda signed
  • Homework done
  • When you have a problem and you come to the me before the principal
  • When your kid is dressed appropriately for school so I don’t have to measure their shorts with a ruler
  • When you see me in the grocery store and you say, “My kid really loves your class.”
  • When you see me at church and you say, “My kid really loves that book you made him read.”

According to my kids, what their teachers really want is:

  • Quiet
  • Good listeners
  • Mint chocolate candy
  • Pepper

Here’s what one third-grade teacher told me she wanted:

  • Parents to read her newsletter
  • But she’ll take a gift card

Here’s the thing. For years, teaching was my job. I didn’t need a reward for doing it because it’s the job I chose and the job I loved/hated and like parenting—my days were endlessly long but those years flew by.

I have a box full of teacher ornaments and magnets. They’re buried beneath a stack of letters from kids telling me my class was their favorite. I’ve long ago spent the Starbucks cards and broken the personalized tumbler (blame: toddlers) and lost half the pair of earrings.

But those parents who raised up respectful kids? Lovable kids? Those are the parents who showed appreciation everyday because they recognized teaching is hard and kids are harder and it’s a calling and a profession that commands respect—those are the parents and kids I remember.

And these days, in the grocery store, I go out of my way to speak to them.

P.S. That picture is from that time my students had a “stick it to ’em” day and stuck post-its all over our doors. BEST GIFT EVER.

P.P.S. In case you didn’t know (but your probably do) I quit teaching to write books and have this fourth baby.My debut, Still Waters, released last fall and is currently a finalist for three different awards. But thank you notes and reviews from readers (like thank you notes from students) are still the most appreciated.

faith · just write life · motherhood · writing

When You Really Don’t Want to Run the Race Anymore

StockSnap_I5APPDXHX3Had one of those pinnacle moments of motherhood this weekend. One of those times where I thought–this moment is it. The choice I make, the choice she  makes, in THIS moment will define how I parent her for the rest of her life.

Actually, now that I think about it, I’ve had more than one moment like this with this particular child this past month.

And I’m not so certain she’s the one who’s learning. I pray she is. I hope she is. I think she is. But really? I’m learning the hard and fast truth about motherhood, writing, life–you have to keep going even when you don’t think you can. 

She fell Saturday morning barely 25 meters into the 3200 meter race at the state track meet for youth. That red-hued track ate up her knee and elbow and pride. The whistle blew for a restart because the rules allow it that early into a race.

(You know, quite often we aren’t as far along as we think, and the opportunity to begin again is right there if we take a few steps back.)

The gatekeepers let me out there as soon as I said she was mine, and I wiped the bloody trickle and slapped on a bandaid and told her to line back up. That’s the worst part of motherhood, you know. When your baby is crying and hurting and you know you have to make them finish. When you know it would be easier to say, good try, there’s always next year, you’re hurting so let’s quit. 

But truth is I called up reality–we drove three hours so she could run in one race. This is her event. She’s had a tough season, but we’re finishing. It’s two miles, I told her, and you’ll be done in fifteen minutes. Line up.

I practically pushed her back to that starting line believing she might make it one round and then beg to come out. I would’ve let her. Because she got back up and tried again.

She finished the race.

We run with endurance the race that is set before us…

The preacher called up those words Sunday morning amidst a congregation that featured a woman who left her Georgia home in 1954 and served 38 years in Nigeria as a missionary. The pews were filled with her girls, come visiting for her 90th birthday. What a race she’s almost finished.

…run with ENDURANCE…

My girl might carry that scar on her knee for awhile. She has a wall full of medals and ribbons from other races she’s won, but this one–this race she lost by all the standards which measure speed–this is the race where she truly gets the prize.

This is the race I will remember in this long marathon of motherhood and grace. The one that cost the most. The one that made me set aside the instinct to coddle and press forward with the commandment to endure.

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, [a]fixing our eyes on Jesus, the [b]author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. –Hebrews 12: 1-2

 

faith · Guest Posts · just write life · Margin Mom · writing

When Saying No Means Yes

Step on up to the front porch and welcome Kirsten from Sweet Tea & Saving Grace. We’re blog friends and heart sisters because y’all know you’ve heard me say this before — no is a word I need to use more often. Check out Kirsten’s site sometime this week. Her content and heart are sweeter than McDonald’s tea. I promise.

The alarm next to my head began to buzz at the usual 5:00 am, alerting my body and mind that it was time to begin yet another day – a day of a 3-hour round-trip commute to a job I hated, a quick dinner with the family, and working on my blog until I couldn’t hold my eyes open any longer. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

But this particular morning when that alarm began ringing, something felt different. Something felt off.

Rewind to about six months prior when a book found me. I didn’t go seeking this book, mind you. I was in a local bookstore looking for a new Bible study when I stumbled across “Anything” by Jennie Allen. I had recently read a blog post about her and suddenly she was showing up everywhere, including on this book shelf in this bookstore. Something compelled me to pick it up and read…and as I read, I was immediately convicted, and wanted more.

That afternoon, I read the book cover to cover, then re-read it several times over the following months.

Jennie tells the story of she and her husband and their willingness, albeit with noted apprehension, to give God “anything”…and to mean it. She talks about how reluctant we are to give God the big things, the really important things, the things that are already His but we refuse to relinquish complete control. And she tells of a prayer she & her husband prayed finally letting go and telling God, “Anything. Anything you want, it’s Yours.”

So I prayed. More times than I can count over those months that passed, I prayed, and repeatedly gave God my “Anything”.

Now, I’ve been a Christian my whole life, and yet here I was expecting the clouds to part and angels to sing every time I prayed that prayer. I knew better. I knew that God would take my “anything” whenever He wanted, not when I was ready to give it to Him.

Six months pass. I had all but stopped praying that prayer. I was 3 ½ years into building a blog that I hoped would turn into a business. I spent countless hours throwing every ounce of time, energy, and money into it and was oddly pleased when my only return was an increase in pageviews and Facebook fans. But I somehow felt I was finally at my peak.

I woke up on this ordinary morning with a heaviness on my chest. And I knew.

Beyond a shadow of a doubt, I knew God had come to collect my “anything”, and I knew what it was. Yet, I resisted. I argued. I went through the motions of my morning – shower, makeup, hair, outfit – all the while, arguing with God that I wasn’t ready to give up my blog, that I was finally seeing success, that if He would give me just six months, I’d walk away.

Suddenly, I was hit with such a force in my chest it felt as if I’d been punched hard, and it brought me to my knees. I couldn’t see my own reflection in the bathroom mirror anymore. Instead, my head was filled with visions. I saw my daughter, almost 12 years old, dealing with hormones she’d never experienced before, questioning everything, needing answers. And I was in my office working on my blog.

I saw my husband, alone on the couch, watching TV and eating dinner without me. I was in my office working on my blog.

I saw missed opportunities for quality time spent with friends, family… I saw my own health deteriorating because I didn’t make time to care for myself.

Finally, with tears streaming down my face and me in a crumpled heap on the bathroom floor, I surrendered.

Immediately, I felt relief. The weight in my chest vanished and I felt peace. My vision cleared, yet I continued to cry. I told God that yes, He could have “anything”. And I meant it.

After a while, I cleaned up my face and headed to work. As soon as I sat down in front of my computer, I typed out a blog post – what would be my last for more than six months. I told this entire story to my readers. I emailed people with whom I had made commitments and apologized, but told them I could no longer honor those commitments.

And I quit. Just like that.

Now for those of you who don’t blog, you might not see this as such a big sacrifice. But my blog had become my passion, my identity. And walking away was like tearing off a piece of me and abandoning it. I had spent 3 ½ years of my life nurturing this thing, building this thing… It was mine. It was me!

But it never was. It was His. And He took it back.

Over the six months that followed, I began to realize what I had been missing. My relationships with my husband and daughter improved dramatically, and I began to realize what it was about blogging that I was so passionate about to begin with.

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Kirsten, daughter Marley, and her mom

It wasn’t the pageviews, the Facebook followers, the “status”. It was the stories and the community. After a while, I began to ask God if I could start over with my blog, but do it His way. And in May of 2014, He said “yes”.

I rebranded to Sweet Tea & Saving Grace, but the name wasn’t the only thing that changed. My entire mindset has changed since then. I no longer chase numbers, and I will never allow myself to get lost in the to-do’s.

Since my return to blogging in May of 2014, God has blessed me and my family tremendously. I’ve created an entire business that allows me to work from home and teach other bloggers and creatives how to build their own brand of success with their own rules. It’s a dream come true.

I’m often asked how I “do it all” – handle being a wife and mom, run a business, manage two blogs, host events, speak at conferences, work with clients. And the short answer is, I don’t. Nobody does.

The longer answer goes more like this:

Before I ever picked up my proverbial blogging pen again in 2014, I made a list of my priorities. Every decision I have to make for my blog or business gets weighed against those priorities. When an opportunity arises, I ask myself if the opportunity will (a) benefit my business and help me grow, or challenge me professionally, or (b) if it will either benefit or take away from my priorities.

I’ve learned to take things off my plate when life gets too stressful or busy, and I do so without the guilt I used to feel. I always have dinner with my family at the dinner table. I go fishing with my husband on random Tuesday afternoons. I step away from work to go for a walk with my now 14-year old daughter who, remarkably, actually wants to spend time with me, so I soak it up.

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Fishing with husband, Mark, on a random afternoon

I work because we have to have an income, and I’m fortunate enough to have work that brings me joy. But at the end of my life, I won’t be thinking about all those blog posts I wrote, or the clients I helped. I’ll be reminiscing of all the experiences I had with the people I love most.

I’ve learned that saying “no” often means saying “yes”. We say “no” to things that don’t honor our priorities in order to say “yes” to the things that matter. We can’t do it all. Nobody can. Well, God can. He can do “anything”.


 

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Kirsten is the owner of Sweet Tea, LLC, which is home to all of her educational content, including blog posts, tutorials, webinars, ebooks, courses, 1:1 coaching, email services and a future membership site. She also blogs at Sweet Tea & Saving Grace, a Southern Christian lifestyle blog, where she shares her home, life and faith with anyone who wants to mingle on her front porch.


Kirsten lives in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband Mark, teenage daughter Marley, and their three dogs, Savannah, Dakota, and Daisy Mae. She thrives on sweet tea & sunshine, has finally learned to embrace her natural curl, and says “y’all” entirely too often.

amelia · faith · just write life · motherhood · writing

What It Means for Me to Live Prayer

IMG_6043In February, when I attended FCWC (which is really more retreat than conference and I recommend it wholeheartedly for introverted writers and harried moms who want to be writers), Robert Benson was the keynote speaker. I wrote a little about some things Robert had to say about hurry and life and living within the steps of the Ancient Dance.

Robert will tell you he is a little man but God is great. He’ll also tell you the Yankees are the only baseball team worth watching and if you dress like an artist people will believe you actually are one. Because of my proximity to the staff at conference, I got to spend a little extra time with him, and because I have a habit of putting my foot in my mouth, we had a good laugh together. We wound up in the same shuttle on the way back to the airport–over an hour of him and Eddie Jones (who is my publisher) talking church and baseball and publishing’s state of affairs.

One of those divine moments you have to watch out for at conferences where everyone believes God will place you where He wants you. God placed me where I could listen.

Robert has written a lot of books about life and Christianity but not about Christian living in the self-help sense of the genre. Don’t expect a how-to list and questions to work through and a Facebook chat group.

I purchased Living Prayer because I’ve been in a season of life in which I wrestle with prayer. Not just the action of it–what it means to pray ceaselessly or in communion–but what it means to pray and ask and receive.

Or to not.

IMG_2246I wonder over and over when we pray for healing and restoration and then say God is good when we receive those things if we could have received them without the prayer? And when we don’t, we say that is His will, so if His plan is unchanging, what is our purpose in prayer? What is the point?

Prayer, for me, has not been a rhythm, a stepping to a cadence my soul already knows. Rather it has been a beating and a brush-off. A way people had of offering comfort when what I really wanted was someone to rail with me, to hold me while I wept, to tell me that I am out of tune with God’s rhythm because prayer is not about what I can get but what I can receive.

Prayer is not meant to be the catch-all we so often make it.

People tell me God is so good when I answer their questions about my daughter’s health. I nod. God is good.

But my daughter is not healed.

She may never be, and that is our reality.

She compensates well and we move through our days and maybe I might call her physical therapist because her hip drop is back and her leg is very stiff and she cried the other night because her knee hurt. If her next MRI shows her lesion has receded, I’ll be surprised. If it shows a new spot of deterioration, we’ll still go through our every day and maybe see her neurologist an extra time or two.

And the only prayer I have is that God will show us how to live though our days.

I no longer offer petitions for her body or mine. I offer praise for every day that is better, for every moment that we are broken, for every set of hands that folds with mine. Then i get really quiet because Robert says we cannot hear God’s voice when we are too full of our own. 

And “it is our brokenness… that holds the key to whatever we have to share.”

There is a chapter in this book about Walking in the Dark. If you’ve never walked that path, perhaps you cannot yet understand. But if you have…

“Perhaps God needs me to pray so I can be about the business of laying myself and the people and places and things I care about on the altar.”

And that simple act is what I am learning prayer is. A laying down. A lifting up. A coming to the altar.

I’d love to have you join me there.

For more about what I’m reading, writing, and listening to these days subscribe to my monthly-ish newsletter.

just write life · motherhood · savor · writing

Because Hurry is No Posture for Anyone

Unless there’s an emergency. Hurry is allowed then.

I spent last week in the company of great writers at the Florida Christian Writers Conference (you can head over here if you want to know why I go to writers conferences).

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Our keynote speaker was Robert Benson who can talk eucharist and Yankee baseball in the same sentence. My only quandary after hearing him speak is which book to read first. I’m leaning toward Living Prayer because a review says Benson “makes the ordinary events of life seem mystical and the mystical seem ordinary.” Which is the consistent cry of my heart and probably why I was moved hearing this man speak about life and art and writing and Jesus.

“Hurry,” he chastised softly one morning, “is no posture for a writer.”


 

Everyday I get out of bed and stumble over to the preset coffee maker and pour a cup. I nestle into a corner of our couch and I study and pray and journal. Sometimes I blog or read or socialize with others awake in the dim light of dawn.

Then my kids wake up and rush, rush, rush and hurry, hurry, hurry become my mantra. Somewhere between the turning over of the clock from 6:29 to 6:30 my slow easy morning becomes a winded sprint and there’s yelling and fussing and so much stress.

Hurry is no posture for a mother either.

When I hurry–when I push and prod and pull my kids through our morning routine–I set a tone for the rest of our day. I wake them with the notion that we are already behind and we must rush to catch up.

What if instead I woke them with the notion that we have a whole day of discovering God’s goodness upon us? What if I saw the morning as a filter through which the rest of our moments, our comings and goings, sifted through? What if instead of posturing hurry, I postured slow?


 

Sometimes I let them sleep in until almost seven. I make pancakes or oatmeal and hot tea for little sore throats. I pack up my computer so it’s not taken out until my work day has resumed and I listen when they chatter and I smile when they laugh.

I promise not to yell.

We load the banged-up minivan and we run through the day on the short drive to school without actually having to run.

And the only difference between when we get to school on these days and when we get to school on others is me.

Me.

My actions didn’t change. Lunches still got packed. Shoes still got lost and then found. Breakfast dishes were left on the table and the cat might have been left in the house.

But my attitude said slow down. Savor. Sip. Stow away the goodness and the glory in the mess and the broken.

Hurry, my friends, is no posture for anyone.

Slow down. Look around. Catch your breath.

You’ll get there no matter the route you take. But the difference will be in the journey.

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Robert Benson with me on the last day of conference.
31 Days: Fear

31 Days: When Fear is Crippling

Y’all. I did it.

Welcome to my new site. It’s not as pretty as the old one (yet!) but in the last twenty-four hours I faced one of my little fears–

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if I move my blog myself, I’ll break it.

I didn’t. It didn’t. At least I don’t think so–everything working for you?

Sometimes we just have to take the plunge and draw the breath and trust our gut. Even when it’s something as small as taking a site from Blogger to WordPress.

Today is the first day of October. 2015. Life goes by in a crazy blur sometimes.  One year ago I had no idea how afraid I could really be.

Then my beautiful daughter developed an unexplainable neurological condition that may not have a recovery.

For the next 31 days, as I acclimate myself to this new site and new brand–I don’t just write the randomness of motherhood anymore–I’ll share our story.

Some of you know it. Some of you don’t. My prayer is that you’ll follow along, chime in on the conversation, and walk with me through the valley of shadow.

When Fear is Crippling: A 31 Days Series

When Fear Chokes (my daughter chokes on a lifesaver but I’m the ones strangled)

No Fear in Love (why I’m never afraid with him)

Because Failure is What I Fear Most (on writing and terror)

When Fear Eats Holes in Your Soul (we had mice and my faith fabric ripped)

Sticks and Stones and Fearing People (facing confrontation and speaking truth)